Not too long ago, the copy editing world collectively recoiled after reading an article by Gawker reporter Hamilton Nolan titled “Against Editors.” Nolan’s column reminded me of a conversation I’d recently had with an acquaintance who had written a book. When I told him that I’m a freelance copy editor, he asked, “What exactly do you do?”
“Well . . .” I said, my heart pounding, fearing his response. “I go over a manuscript, checking for everything: incorrect word usage and punctuation, improper tenses, misspelled words, and redundancies. I note if the text doesn’t flow logically and make suggestions for restructuring the piece so it does. I reword sentences and paragraphs or eliminate them if that would make the piece read better. I also make sure that—”
“So, in other words, you go over it with a fine-tooth comb and tear it to shreds,” he said.
I cringed because, let’s face it, in essence that is what we copy editors do. But what writers don’t understand is that we are not serving them or their work well if we don’t scrutinize every detail and ferret out every error with meticulous precision. That’s our job.
But it’s how we do our job that makes the difference.
As a writer myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of a red-pen-wielding slasher. So as a copy editor, I vow to not inflict that harm on another.
As a writer myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of a red-pen-wielding slasher. So as a copy editor, I vow to not inflict that harm on another. With every piece I edit, I set out to be encouraging yet still do my job well.
This entails three simple things:
Nolan says, “Editors are an important part of writing—a subordinate part.” This is simply not so. Both editors and writers have vital roles in the writing process, and neither is subordinate to the other.
Editors and writers need each other, but the quality of that relationship is determined, in large part, by the editors. We have the power to build up or tear down the writers we serve. Our job is to refine and polish their work—with heart.
Diana Schramer is a full-time freelance editor of book-length manuscripts, mainly creative nonfiction and memoir, and is the owner of Write Way Copyediting LLC.